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Taking the screech out of chalk

The wrenching screech of chalk across the blackboard may become a thing of the past for 21st century students as schools increasingly move toward technology-based teaching.

The interactive “white board” was introduced in the 1990’s by Smart Technologies, based in Canada. At the beginning of the millennium, school administrators and teachers began to sit up and take notice at the ease in which lessons could be applied and students could become more engaged.  Nearly 2 million are in use globally today.

What’s a so-called “Smart Board”?

“It’s a large, interactive display connected to a computer and it enables teachers and students to interact with digital material using digital ink or their hands to control what’s on the board,” said  David Lapides, director of education product management for Smart Technologies.

Teachers and students can write on it with digital pens or with their fingertips, and rather than using erasers, can remove what’s written or drawn with a swipe of their palm. Items on the board can be re-arranged according to needs. Its Internet access allows teachers to tie in web information that complements lessons, essentially turning the old chalkboard into a computer screen.

“It gives teachers the ability to engage their students more effectively by using digital technology,” said Lapides. “Smart Boards give teachers and students the ability to interact with each other, particularly because the technology is so familiar to them outside of school setting,”

And what is ahead for blackboards, the classroom standby? “I think what we’ll be seeing are Smart Boards sitting side by side with blackboards,” said Lapides. “One of the key benefits of the Smart Board is that students can work digitally with teachers, and there is growing demand for that type of interaction.”

Along with the Smart Board, there is also the Smart Table, where children can sit in groups and work at a station that has the digital technology literally at their fingertips. Geared for the K-3 set, the touch-sensitive table helps young students interact with each other and work collaboratively as a group.

There is growing interest in the Smart Table, added Lapides. “It has not been available as long as the Smart Board, but it is getting recognition.”

According to the company, for its fiscal year ending March 31, Smart’s share in the interactive whiteboard product in the United States, where more have been installed than any other country, was just above 63 percent. In Westchester alone, more than 1,000 Smart Boards are already in use in K-12 classrooms.

The company recently announced its so-called Smart Vantage, a technology-management software program that tells administrators how the boards are used. By logging in to the web-based interface, educational and IT administrators can access data on all aspects of board use, throughout schools and across entire districts. The software should be available in the U.S. by October.

“As more and more schools around the world continue to adopt education technology  solutions into classrooms, administrators require the necessary tools to manage those solutions efficiently, within their budgets and also to have a comprehensive understanding of their return on investment,” said Linda Thomas, Smart’s vice president for products in a prepared statement. “Using Smart Vantage software will give  educators instant insight into how, when and in what subject areas Smart Board interactive whiteboards are being used, helping them to make informed decisions that will support teaching and learning at all levels.”

Smart Boards and Smart Tables are among the many ways technology has gripped educators. Jim McClafferty, founder of Brain Parade in Stamford, Conn., created the “See Touch Learn” application, a flash card program for special-needs children. It was picked up by Apple for its iPad and is actively used in the Stamford schools. To date, it has been downloaded more than 65,000 times since being launched in March.

“We’re continuing to work on the See Touch Learn app,” said McClafferty. “And we will have a new release for the new school year. We have a number of other applications we are considering, but nothing in development just yet.”

Education on all levels has latched on to technology, continued McClafferty, including making textbooks available for i-Pads. “The i-Pads are becoming very prevalent in the schools. Stamford is making a significant investment in them, and I believe they will become a standard piece of equipment at all levels. Long Island University made a bulk purchase of i-Pads and is giving one to every student. I think we’ll be seeing more of that in the future.”

Study Island is a web-based program that reinforces New York state and common education standards, said Michael Roseman, Northeast regional sales director for Archipelago Learning. “It is presented in multiple study modes, including interactive games. Students can work at their own pace or the program can be teacher-directed; either way, teachers have the ability to generate detailed reports from Study Island that track academic progress and identify strengths and weaknesses. In turn, this can be used to differentiate instruction.” The programs are tailored for K-12 students.

Study Island is used in several school districts, including Port Jervis in Orange County,  Yorktown in Westchester and Stratford in Fairfield County, CT.

ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) funding helped many schools put new technology in place.

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